TUSK Festival, the annual gathering of almighty musical forces in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, has garnered for itself a strong international reputation over its two editions to date. It’s about to launch into it’s third year and judging by the lineup this years event is going to be another monumental weekend of “high-grade, head-melting sonic energies from all corners of the contemporary music sphere”. We caught up, via email, with one of the organisers of this years event, Lee Etherington, and asked him a few questions about the festival. Read that below or just scroll to the end of the piece for full details about TUSK 2013 (and a link to their wicked Soundcloud).
Louder Than War: Inevitable opener – why did you decide to start Tusk Festival?
Slightly by accident to be honest – we were going to do a 10-year anniversary of NO-FI as we were called then but then thought rather than dwell on the past, it was a chance to do something new. So we morphed into Tusk, got really lucky with our fantasy line-up wishlist and it’s gone on from there.
Louder Than War: How easy / difficult has the whole process of setting up the festival been? Is it getting easier now you’re in the 3rd year?
Well its becoming a bigger task as the festival has expanded a little every year and we have plans to expand it a little more next year too, and we’re a tiny organisation, so we’re looking at ways to take on / afford more staff. It’s a definite labour of love though – the work hours are horrendous and there’s no way they’d be tolerable if we didn’t love doing it.
I don’t know if that’s for me to say, but I think we’ve been lucky in that, to be totally honest, the music programming is totally based on our own personal listening in the 18 months prior to each festival and we’ve managed to find an audience that loves how we put it together. We’re happy to avoid classification too and present a ridiculously all-over-the-place mix of music, and it seems to work.
A major thing also is that most of the artists hang around all weekend and people travel from all over the UK, Ireland and Europe for it, so it’s a big social occasion too, lots of catching up and partying.
Its really important that TUSK is in Newcastle too, I think it makes the audience’s experience so much better – you can stroll everywhere without having to get 6 tubes, it’s cheaper, less stressful etc etc
Louder Than War: Generally speaking what kind of feedback have you had about the festival? Has it been well received would you say? Locally, nationally & internationally?
We’ve been very lucky in that feedback has been almost universally positive and we do feel word is spreading internationally – we get requests to play from artists from absolutely everywhere now, and last year a bloke came all the way from South Africa just for the festival, so word is spreading nicely.
Louder Than War: How much time do you spend on programming each years event?
A lot – it’s a major ingredient of the festival in that we like the programming to be very diverse but also to hang together well. That’s maybe especially more vital as we only have one live stage – so we really see who plays and who follows them as like a 7 hour DJ playlist each night.
Weirdly that also means that sometimes some acts that we’d like to invite get ruled out because they don’t fit into the balance of the overall line-up. Might sound slightly mad but that’s how we do it.
Louder Than War: The “notes for editors” section on the press release mentions that the festival’s “the most genuinely warm, intimate (festival) … you’ll find in the UK”. That’s obviously something you see as important, do you consider yourself an antidote to the “major” festivals? Or just as something completely different?
We don’t really think about major festivals at all, to be honest. It is always a great atmosphere at TUSK though, possibly helped by the fact that we’re lucky enough to work with a lot of musicians who are often as happy to be there to see the other acts as they are to play, and also because we’re lucky enough to have the Star & Shadow as our location, best place to see music in the North East bar none, entirely volunteer-run and fantastically supportive.
Louder Than War: Would you say you have a target demographic or is there stuff at the festival that everyone will be able to enjoy?
I suppose we have a notional demographic but I’m not sure how you’d define it in practical terms – people who are musically open-minded like us, I suppose. Not an ideal definition as of course there’s music we’d never dream of programming, but we love music that doesn’t fit nicely into a genre box and artists that are oblivious to any such notion. Everything’s utterly subjective of course and maybe a lot of people might be horrified enough by, say, Blackphone666 to not hang about for the serene genius of Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang (below).
Louder Than War: What are the criteria by which you chose artists to perform at Tusk?
Do we like their music, do we want to see them live, can we afford them. We also try to focus on people that very rarely tour or have played in the UK as much as possible, so we have the pleasure of lots of coups in our line-up.
Louder Than War: This years festival looks interesting – what are some of your personal highlights of this years festival?
Hard to choose really, obviously it was all picked as stuff that excites us. Have to say I’m very excited at the thought of seeing Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang though. I think Endless Boogie will blow the roof off too. Great to finally get Oren Ambarchi (below) up here, and I really love those Jar Moff and Hacker Farm records. Smegma are such lovely folks too, great just to have them here for a few days. The films look great again this year too, the Caroliner film is going to do everyone’s head in, and the exhibitions too. Karen Constance and Richard Dawson exhibiting their collages, Malcy Duff doing a cartoon that grows across the wall over the weekend and Mark Fell sound installations at Baltic 39. Mike Pride’s Drummer’s Corpse should be amazing too, 6 drummers, total Art Ensemble mayhem.
We’re really happy to be representing the North East scene more than ever this year too, so much great music up here that we want to shout about. Everyone needs to hear the Midnight Doctors lp about to come out on Alt.Vinyl, and Basic House is taking over the world next year.
Louder Than War: What’s your key to running a successful festival in the current climate?
I don’t know if I’m qualified to answer that question. We’re a small festival because we present what you might call ‘niche’ music and we’re way up North (though half our audience do travel here) – if we did TUSK in London, we’d easily get double the audience, but we feel it needs to be here. So because we’re small, maybe we don’t have so far to fall. I do sometimes look at festival ads and wonder who they’re going to appeal to, but then I guess a lot of people would do that with ours. But maybe too many festivals try to do the same thing or don’t have a ‘guiding principle’ as such (ours being we specifically like to put on as many acts as we can that you almost never get to see live).
Louder Than War: Can you name some of your favourite festivals & tell us why?
It’d probably be Colour Out Of Space if i’d ever managed to make it but I always seem to be snowed under when it’s on. All Ears in Oslo a few years back was brilliant. Supersonic is always a great weekend. I definitely think the smaller the better, and the worst place to see / hear music is always a field. Enjoyed Tectonics in Glasgow earlier this year too, would like to see that happen round here some time.
This years TUSK festival is held at Star & Shadow Cinema in Newcastle-Upon- Tyne between the dates October 11th & October 13th. Driven by enthusiasm it’s, as you can see from the answers above, neither market driven or “boutique” but rather a diverse collection of exiting artists who you’ll possibly never had heard of before. It’s guaranteed that you’ll leave each years TUSK with a whole slew of favourite new artists & ones to research.
Full weekend passes are a meagre £45, or you can buy an “Enhanced” weekend passes for £55, which comes with a copy of the first TUSK Festival release: a vinyl LP of The Unit Ama’s blistering set at 2012’s festival.
Buy tickets from either of these links:
Oh, and make sure you check out the Festival’s Soundcloud account for lots of bewilderingly brilliant sounds. Check it here: soundcloud.com/tusk-festival.
And finally this years lineup!
Jessika Kenney & Eyvind Kang
Dawson-Davies: Hen Ogledd
Endon (see video below)
Mind Over Mirrors
Astral Social Club
Mark Fell Sound Installations
(At Baltic Centre For Contemporary Art)